One of the most frequently asked questions I get from readers is how I pick the restaurants I discover and re-discover for this monthly column.
For the most part it's pretty random.
I'll be with some friends, we're hungry, ideas are tossed around, and an impulsive decision to dine somewhere in Newport/Costa Mesa is made.
Those experiences find their way to these pages.
Though my regular dining buddies choose to remain anonymous for the purposes of this column, their adventurous palates and free spirits take me to places I probably wouldn't have thought about.
And that's exactly what happened recently when one of them suggested we dine somewhere "crusty and classically Newport."
So off we headed to The Chicken Coop, 414 N. Newport Blvd., Newport Beach.
This place has been a local favorite for decades. The food is hearty, well-priced, and the atmosphere is interesting, to say the least.
If you're in the mood for fancy, this isn't the place.
The building paint is chipping, as is the well-worn bench outside the main entrance.
The best way I can describe the interior décor is "crusty," and I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just that everything looks well-used, including the carpet, tables and chairs.
But hey, it's part of the charm of this joint.
We were there for lunch, and the place was packed.
Many were dining at the full-service bar, since tables were full, but we didn't have to wait long to be seated.
Also known as Zubies Chicken Coop by locals, the place is old school.
Don't bother checking out their website, chickencoopnb.com before a visit. Click on their menu pages, and no information appears.
The Chick Coop is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, and the menu pretty much covers anything your taste buds could crave at any given time.
Breakfast is served all day, and menu items include Denver, spinach and chili cheese omelets, each at $8.95, which include potatoes and choice of biscuits and gravy or toast.
On the lunch menu, offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., $8.95 seems to be the magic number for most entrees.
All lunches include fries and salad; sandwiches come with choice of fries or coleslaw. There's a wide selection offered here.
Sandwiches include a turkey and bacon sub, cheeseburger, turkey burger, smoked barbecued brisket of beef, patty melt, turkey club, meatball, Philly cheese steak and more, each $8.95.
We tried the brisket, patty melt and tuna, which were all tasty and the portion size was plentiful. We certainly will return again.
Another place I was eager to revisit this month was the newly opened Lighthouse Café, 1600 West Balboa Blvd., in Marina Park.
Readers may remember I wrote about this place before it launched in December, talking about its head chef, Ryan Sumner, son of Irvine Ranch co-owner Robin Kramer.
So I was interested in seeing how things were going for Sumner and the Lighthouse a month after the grand opening.
Having Stasha the Wonder Dog in tow one Saturday morning, we dined on the doggy-friendly outdoor patio under comfy heaters.
Feet from the sand overlooking the harbor, Stasha wasn't the only pampered pooch dining out for breakfast. More than half the tables had dogs along.
The pumpkin and oats pancakes, $10.95, were my favorite item here.
Also good were the traditional eggs Benedict, $13.95, and the Lighthouse omelet, $11.95, with spinach, tomatoes, bacon, Cheddar cheese, avocado.
I've also been back for lunch.
Try the turkey burger with cranberry chutney, arugula, tomato, caramelized onions, Brioche bun and fries, $12.95.
My friend ordered the short rib poutine, $10.95, with gravy, arugula, fries, cheese curd, fried egg and pickled pearl onions.
She wasn't crazy about it and explained to Chef Ryan the menu description was a bit misleading. She hadn't expected chopped, tiny pieces of short ribs.
I loved the Lighthouse, hated the parking. Spots are plentiful, but paying is a real pain. Here's a tip — take a picture of your license plate when leaving the car. It'll save you a frustrated walk back later. You'll need it for the pay station process, which is cumbersome.
On a touch screen you have to choose a language, enter your plate number, bypass another screen if you don't have a coupon, and choose how many hours to pay for, then insert a credit card in the reader.
I had to do this twice before it read my card, and so did the gal after me.
If you mess up any of these stages, you go right back to the first screen.
Two hours cost me $3.50
I watched others navigating the pay station. Everyone seemed to be experiencing some angst with this; language was colorful.
The city needs to rethink its program here before the summer crowds roll in.
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.